Kate Hans was never convinced she was a good actress until Doug de Lisle suggested she start performing outside Rensselaer County.
“He asked me why I only worked on the east side of the Hudson River,” said Hans, part of a talented ensemble cast set to put on “Big Maggie” beginning Friday at Albany Civic Theater. “God bless Doug. He told me, ‘You gotta get out more. Get over on the other side of the river.’ That really encouraged me.”
De Lisle, a Troy Record columnist and community-theater stalwart who died in 2008, recognized talent in Hans, and over the past two decades she has become a highly sought-after character actor. Her long résumé includes gigs at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse and Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs along with Albany Civic, where five years ago she last performed on stage in “Keely and Du.”
WHERE: Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 15
HOW MUCH: $15-$10
MORE INFO: 462-1297, www.albanycivictheater.org
Turning back the clock
Health issues had kept Hans off the stage until Chris Foster, who is directing “Big Maggie,” contacted her and asked her to play the part of the “Old Woman” in John Keane’s play about a sometimes-tyrannical Irish mother dealing with her adult children following the death of her husband.
“He called me and asked me why I didn’t audition for the play,” explained Hans, who got Foster’s phone call after the original actress who was cast for the role had to pull out of the show. “I told him I had some limitations. Well, he’s been totally accommodating, and he’s like a mother hen running around making sure I don’t hurt myself. But it’s been wonderful, and my family told me I’m a totally different person. I’m like I was 10 years ago, so they’re very happy I took this on.”
Hans was born and raised in the Port Schuyler section of Watervliet — on the west bank of the Hudson River — but went to Catholic Central High School and has spent most of her life living in Troy. Her introduction to the world of community theater came with the Spotlight Players in East Greenbush and the Circle Theater Players in Averill Park. Since de Lisle passed on his few good words about her ability, she has also taken up directing, her last work in that category coming in 2009 at Albany Civic when she led a production of “Hot L Baltimore.” Much of her résumé includes theater work involving Irish plays.
“My maiden name is Flynn and my husband was Irish as well as German,” said Hans. “And when I was 7, my one grandmother, Mary Corrigan, told me, ‘There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are Irish, and those who wish they were Irish.’ I’ve taken that to heart. It was her mother and father who came over on a boat, and she’s told me all the stories about Ireland. I’ve done a lot of different plays, but when there’s a brogue involved, it seems I always get a phone call.”
In “Big Maggie,” Hans’ character plays a small but significant part of the story. She and Phil Sheehan, who plays the “Old Man,” bring a little levity to Keane’s otherwise solemn piece of work.
“Phil and I are the comic relief,” she said. “We are the gossip mongers who are trying to get all the dirt on the funeral and Big Maggie’s family, and that’s our entry into the pub. We know that somebody will buy us a pint to tell them the story. It’s a small part, but as far as I’m concerned there are no small parts, only small actors. This is my passion and I love it, no matter the part. I love them all.”
Longtime Albany Civic performer Kathleen Carey, who just finished up another summer of professional work at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, plays Big Maggie and is the central character in the show. Hans has worked closely with Carey in the past, as her mother in “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” back in 2003, and as her kidnapper in “Keely and Du,” in 2008. Playing the character of Byrne is another familiar face at Albany Civic, Patrick White. White, Carey and Foster have all been closely associated with Albany Civic Theater for more than 15 years.
“When you have Kathleen and Patrick and Chris around during a project, you can’t go wrong,” said Hans. “I’ve worked with them many times and they are wonderfully talented people. It’s great to be working with them again, and it’s also nice to have a few new faces here at Albany Civic.”
One of those new faces, at least to Hans, is Isaac Newberry, who plays Teddy, the love interest of Maggie’s daughter, Gert, played by Annie Bunce.
“She really has a love for acting, and she’s had some things that have kept her out of it for a while now,” said Newberry, who was in “The Farnsworth Invention” at Albany Civic last season. “She said she was really excited to get a call and to be able to get back into it. She came in a bit late to the project but she’s learned her lines. She’s been great, and I think it’s been great for her.”
‘This is my joy’
According to Carey, Hans provides plenty of authenticity to the role of the Old Woman.
“Like me, she’s got an Irish background, but beyond the technical aspects of the accent, she really has that Irish sensibility,” said Carey. “That works really well for this play and her character. She puts a lot of thought into her work. She puts everything she has into it.”
Rounding out the cast are Debra Burger as Mrs. Madden, Paul Dedrick as Maurice, Amanda Martini-Hughes as Katie, Elizabeth Pietrangelo as Mary and Patrick Rooney as Mick.
“I feel like Chris and this show has really given me my life back,” said Hans. “This is my joy, and what I’m most passionate about.”